Cuomo’s Evaluation Regs in Randolph

Of 700 districts in NYS, we are the 9th district who negotiated, submitted and received approval for our APPR plan under the new regulations, 3012-d. After the usual back and forth with the attorney at NYSED who reviewed the plan and gave us 10-15 wordsmith-ed changes to make, our plan was approved on Tuesday. Most of the school districts in NYS are submitting for a hardship waiver for various reasons including more time to negotiate and hoping the wait will indicate a revision of the regulations of some sort. We made a conscious decision to move forward, but it is most assuredly NOT because we embrace these new regulations as better than the old.

We submitted under the new regs because it lessens the workload on our teachers, principals, and students. We wanted to eliminate pre-assessments, teacher portfolio reviews, our interim/formative assessments being tied to evaluation, and mandated pre-evaluation meetings. Our students, teachers, and principals work incredibly hard every day–they’ve been involved in unbelievable school improvement efforts and they’ve proven, repeatedly, that Randolph Central is an outstanding school district because of the collective work of every member of our team. If we can eliminate what’s become meaningless work within our system to allow them time to concentrate on what matters most–the education of our children–then that’s what we need to do.

We decided to trade one act of compliance—meeting the requirements of the old APPR regulations—for a new act of compliance—meeting the requirements of this new law.

For a glittering moment in time, back in 2011, I honestly believed that the APPR regulations were designed to improve our educational systems. As a veteran school administrator, I accepted responsibility and acknowledged that we’ve historically not done a good enough job of evaluating teachers or terminating bad teachers or principals. I truly believed that was the reason we were seeing Annual Professional Performance Regulations. Now I know that any good intentions of the regulations if there ever were any, have just become mandates dictated by a governor who uses public schools as a pawn in whatever political game he’s playing.

The downside to moving to the new plan? The regs are so incredibly flawed that 50% of a teacher or principal’s composite evaluation score is based on NYS assessments and how our students supposedly grew or didn’t grow on some ridiculous calculation someone somewhere created to measure if our teachers and principals are getting as much growth out of our Randolph students as those ‘similar’ students across the state. And this is exactly the wrong reason for testing. Thank you, Governor Cuomo. Yes, these regulations are from the Governor’s office despite the fact that he’s an expert at blaming things on NYSED or NYSUT or whoever is convenient.  

Our school district is perfectly poised to clearly illustrate the absolute absurdity of these regulations. Why? Because we have had the sharpest three-year gains on NYS 3-8 tests of any district in Western New York.  Yet under these new regulations, many of our teachers are likely to receive an ineffective rating on the 50% of their evaluation score that is the building growth score. A score of 0-12/20 is ineffective.

Our dedicated teachers and administrators have aligned our curriculum to the NYS common core standards and raised our expectations for all children. We have used a systemic team approach to developing a consistent, comprehensive curriculum–aligned to rigorous standards that you can call whatever you like. You see, our teachers have always worked hard, been well intended and had the best interest of our students at heart–since long before this Governor deemed them ineffective or developing on the HEDI scale. We use the common core standards and the NYS 3-8 assessments as a system check. And this is exactly the right reason for testing. We need standards and assessments. What we do not need is a state mandated noose around our necks through arbitrary regulations designed to marginalize our state’s teachers and administrators.

But hey, we just work here. I guarantee we will exercise whatever local control we have to make it work for our teachers, principals, and students. If you believe that NYS regulations resulting in countless teachers and principals labeled ineffective or developing are going to do anything to improve public education then you should give Governor Cuomo a call.  He’s forming a review committee so that they can tell him he’s right and everyone else is wrong.

NYS Leaders Visiting Randolph Central

On Friday, May 9, 2014, we were honored to host a visit to our classrooms from NYS Chancellor Emeritus Robert M. Bennett and Deputy Commissioner Ken Slentz. I first heard Regent Bennett speak many years ago and found him to be a strong advocate for the children of our state, having been instrumental in establishing family resource centers in schools including Frontier where I began my administrative career. In my opinion, there are no finer individuals working for the children of NYS than Mr. Bennett.

Ken Slentz has been a straight talking, fearless leader in our state’s journey to raise expectations for all educators and children. I have found him to be credible, direct and right on the money every time I’ve heard him speak. I am grateful for the bold moves he and Commissioner King have made, however messy they have been in implementation, to move public education forward.

Here’s what I know the work of both Chancellor Emeritus Bennett and Deputy Commissioner Slentz has resulted in at Randolph Central:

The children of Randolph Central School are receiving a more coherent and rigorous education than they ever have before in our schools. The transition and changes teachers have made with curriculum to align to the common core standards have been fast and furious and an incredible amount of work for our teachers, administrators and children. Parents have struggled at times with the new ways in which we’re teaching math. And those changes are resulting in greater understanding of mathematical concepts that will strengthen all students when learning math in high school. Why? Because students are better understanding what the numbers and equations represent, they’re not just memorizing math facts as we did when we were kids (and for students who aren’t good at memorizing? they’re getting it now). Students aren’t just randomly throwing down opinions and sentences when writing; they understand how to back up their statements. We get better at all of this with every passing day. And our student achievement on NYS assessments has risen–which means our kids are meeting greater success at each grade level and that’s just going to keep building on itself.

Any change of this magnitude is going to have some bumps and ripples. But I keep coming back to all of those conversations I’ve had over 25 years of working in public schools with our high school seniors and graduates. Ninety percent of them tell me that they really didn’t have to work all that hard in school. Too many children are failing when they get to college because they can’t handle the work–they aren’t used to it and they aren’t disciplined enough to do it. I want to be proud of the education children receive here at RCS, I want to know that we’ve pushed and challenged and supported every student.

I know parents worry about grades and that we all want our children to do well. But I don’t want a random curriculum that each teacher has to develop for herself based on ill conceived and convoluted NYS standards as we’ve had in the past. I want our brightest kids to be challenged MORE than I want them to be on honor roll.  I want to expect more of myself and of everyone in our system because frankly, I believe that’s how we improve as a community, a state, and a country.

About the Upcoming NYS Testing

The following is excerpted from a letter to teachers dated 3/24/14 from Commissioner King. The points contained within are worth emphasizing and it is my hope that families will also see that we have a measured approach to assessment. From NYS Commissioner John King,

When you communicate about test procedures, there are a few critical points to reinforce:

1. The best preparation for testing is good teaching. In my visits across New York in the past four years, I have seen many inspired and passionate teachers share new lesson plans that help students learn to problem-solve, think critically, read analytically and communicate clearly. That’s what these new assessments measure. Rather than rote memorization or test taking tricks, these new tests require real analysis of and response to real-world problems and authentic texts.

2. Every question on the New York Common Core Assessment was written for New York, reviewed by New York educators and field-tested with New York students. This is New York’s assessment of our standards and the curriculum taught by our teachers. Do not let anyone say otherwise. Additional information about how the questions are designed can be found at http://www.engageny.org/resource/common-core-assessment-design.

3. Parents and educators know that performance on a single assessment does not tell the whole story about what a student knows and can do. It’s simply one way to determine the overall progress of our schools and our students. Moreover, although placement and retention decisions are made at the district level, the Department neither requires nor encourages districts to make promotion or placement decisions using student performance on state assessments in grades 3-8. If districts choose to consider state assessments in grades 3-8 when making promotion or placement decisions, they should make adjustments to ensure students are not negatively impacted by the Common Core transition and should use multiple measures for this purpose – not grades 3-8 state assessment results alone – including the judgments of a student’s teacher and principal.

4. As we all learned last year when we first administered the Common Core assessments, the test is harder, and the proficiency rates will be lower than on the old tests that did not reflect the higher standards. This does not mean our teachers are any less effective or our students are any less prepared. It simply means we have set higher aspirations as we work to help our students be truly college and career ready.

He goes on to remind us that,

Educators should understand that their evaluations are never based exclusively on test scores, but rather on a range of measures, including principal observation. Last year’s evaluations identified just one percent of teachers in the lowest category (ineffective), and these teachers need to remain in that category for two years in a row – despite receiving additional support through an improvement plan – to even be considered for the new due process dismissal procedure established in the evaluation law. In the meantime, we have – collectively – spent hundreds of millions of dollars on teacher training, curriculum development and support since the standards were adopted in 2010.

Families, while testing has become an integral part of students’ education at every level, we recognize the concerns you may have about the upcoming testing and want to not only alleviate any fears your child may have, but also any concerns you may have about the use of these assessments in placement or grading.
We do not use these assessments as a sole determination in any type of program placement. We simply look at them as another measure of performance we have, in addition to many other valuable measures.

Each child is unique; we look at the whole child in school, not how they perform on any single assessment. We certainly do not want any of our students to stay home simply to avoid taking one of these tests for fear of this. If you have any questions about other ways you can assist your child at home or questions about the testing, please do not hesitate to contact your child’s teacher, principal or reach out to me directly. Thank you for your continued support.

Does Our Academic Rank Matter?

It matters to me. Always has, especially when I hear colleagues discuss why it shouldn’t. I don’t know why I wouldn’t want our school district to be as good as or better than similar schools around us? As a community Randolph is clear that we want to be the best in athletics and to celebrate our students’ success. Why wouldn’t we want that same excellence  academically that we enjoy athletically?

I’ve written about academic school improvement here many times before and as the superintendent, it’s my number one mission—to provide the very best education we can to each and every student while being fair to our taxpayers. We do so many things well here, with outstanding teachers, administrators and students, why did we sit in the bottom third of all 97 WNY school districts for so long?

As the superintendent, I research what our colleagues are doing who are more successful than we are just like a good coach studies game film. I also research what’s expected from NYSED and what’s working in the field. While I’ve made some mistakes in my career—I never fully believed in curriculum mapping as a real change measure and yet implemented it in Gowanda—I do believe our efforts at Randolph are paying off in terms of higher expectations for ourselves and for learning for our students. Our teachers have always worked incredibly hard  and this year they’ve been focused on data team meetings to further individualize their instruction for all children during intervention and classroom instruction. We’re also working together on our curriculum and raising our expectations at every grade level so that our students may achieve more as they move through our system. I’m so proud of our team and of our students for meeting the challenge!

Business First ranks all of the elementary, middle and high schools, and districts based on the past four years of NYS test results and Regents exams. Here’s a link to how the ranks are determined. No mystery, no magic. Just the facts on how our students fare on tests over the past four years. And I believe we’re good enough to get from the bottom third of the 97 school districts to the top third. So does our School Board and Administrative Team. And here’s the proof that we’re getting there after a decade of little to no movement in these rankings.

Our elementary school ranked 174 out of 281 which is up 28 spots from last year’s rank of 202. Our middle school results rank us 123 out of 208, up 22 spots from last year’s rank of 145. Our high school rank is 68 of 135, up 14 spots from last year’s 82. And even though we saw improvements from 2011-2012 in middle and high school, our district rank was stuck at 74 of 97. This year I’m delighted to say that we are ranked 59 of 97 WNY Districts, up 15 spots from 74 the last two years.

We are focused on the right things, we are taking what State Ed mandates and making it reasonable where we can and making it work for us. Our students will graduate having the same excellent education they’ve always gotten, but with even higher expectations and achievement. Thanks to everyone for getting us here!

As our BOE President, Dave Adams, said, “congratulations to you all as you all had an impact on this achievement. Continue the hard work and support all of your fellow teachers and administrators to make this a total team effort and we are confident that you can move RCS to even higher rankings in the years to come!”

 

Keep Calm and Carry On

The NYS assessments in Math and ELA for grades 3-8 are upon us, just two weeks away. Following are some important reminders for our teachers and students.

1. The state tests are secure, they’re relatively unknown measures imposed by NYSED and you cannot possibly know exactly what will be on the tests. Control what you can control and let everything beyond your control go. There’s no sense worrying about or over-analyzing the content of the tests now.

2.  Relax. Teaching and learning are most successful in a secure, comfortable environment. Students who are terrified about the results and teachers who are conveying their own anxiety to the students aren’t going to do their best.

3. Students—reconcile yourselves to the worst thing that can happen on the test and move on. If you receive a one or a two out of four, it’s not the whole measure of you! It’s how you did on that test on that day. How will we use the information? To figure out what you don’t know yet—and then teach it to you.  If you land in AIS (Academic Intervention Services) it just means there’s something we missed with you that we need to catch up so that you can move forward successfully in the next year’s class content.

4. Students—no matter what anyone has told you, there is no deep dark threat of your “permanent record card” or how this test will affect you for the rest of your life, including college admittance. The truth is that these tests are to keep  us on track so that we all have the same expectations for what our students are learning when—across New York State—so that we know you’re as prepared as any other student when you graduate. That’s why the results are important to us, we want to be the best that we can be—FOR YOU.

4. Teachers—reconcile yourselves to the worst thing that can happen on the test and move on. If your students receive a one or a two out of four, it’s not the whole measure of your teaching! It’s how they did on that test on that day. How will you use the information? To figure out what you need to do better next year. You’ll continue to study the common core curriculum for your content and grade level and determine how you spend your time the next year—how you’ll deliver the content best. Just like every other year of your career, continually self assessing and thinking about your next lesson.

5. Teachers—read the test carefully as your students take it. Every year when I gave my Regents exam I knew exactly which questions, with which content (and there were always one or two), all of my students would struggle with because I hadn’t spent enough time on that concept or taught the vocabulary word they needed. Yes the test is secure and you can’t make a copy but you’re smart teachers—you can identify what you may have missed in your curriculum just by reading the test.

6. It doesn’t do anyone any good to highlight how much harder the curriculum may be than prior years. I distinctly remember a whole week of teaching on a difficult concept when I kept telling my students “you have to study for this, it’s the hardest thing we’ve done all year!” When my students therefore bombed the test and I asked why, they said, “well, you told us it was going to be incredibly hard so why bother preparing?!” Confidence in all that you’ve done together as a class is what’s needed on test day.

We’ve got this! Everyone in the school system has worked hard, just take the tests like any other tests–it’s part of what we do to measure what we’ve mastered and what we need more work on. That’s all. The rest of it, the hype in the media and APPR plan? We’ll figure it out together, as a team, just like we’ve been saying all year. I have confidence in all of you!  So keep calm and carry on.  

School Improvement at RCS

On Tuesday, the 3-8 Math and ELA scores for 2011-12 were released from the State. Today’s Jamestown Post-Journal printed an article about the release entitled “Falling Behind”. In the article they list the State “Meeting Standard” percentages and the Chautauqua County “Meeting Standards” percentages. A 3 or a 4 as referenced in this blog post is what the Post Journal article references when they say “Meeting Standard”. It’s a four point scale on all 3-8 Math and ELA tests, a 4 being the best. On the twelve measures referenced in the article, Randolph Central exceeds the State “Meeting Standard” levels on seven of them.

I’m excited to report our results in detail, especially given the memo that accompanied the State results from Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch. They reported that there was incremental improvement across the state, that 55.1% (52.8% last year) of grade 3-8 students across the State met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard (a 3 or a 4) and that 64.8 % (63.3% last year) met or exceeded the standard in math (a 3 or a 4).

You will see below that we have seen much more than incremental gains in most areas. I know we’re not as far as we’d like to be, but we’re taking the right steps—as evidenced by the improvements here–to get there.

Our results in Grade 3, ELA and Math, were very strong with 62.2% in ELA and 79.6% in Math achieving a 3 or a 4.   This was one of our strongest grade levels last year and continues to be this year. In fact, in my analysis of 20 Catt and Chautauqua county districts, Grade 3 Math achieved the highest mean scale score of any other school!

Grade 4 made HUGE gains, with 64.9% at a 3 or 4 in ELA, up from 35% last year and 70.2% in Math, up from 52%.

Grade 5 also showed significant improvement with 51.6% of our students at a 3 or a 4 in ELA, up from 37% last year, and 58.1% in Math, up from last year’s 52%.

Grade 6 continues to need work. They showed little to no gains through the year on our iReady diagnostic assessments and their state results have 46.5% at a 3 or a 4 in ELA, down from 66% last year and Math at 39.4%, down from 62%. HOWEVER, please note that this same group was only at 37% in ELA last year and at 52% last year–thus this group of students DID grow from last year. 

Grade 7: we need improvement here. They are at 57% for ELA and 57.7% for Math, down from 67% and 65% respectively. Our entire system needs to improve in the area of Math and you can see above that we’re getting there at the youngest grades, but that leaves a transition period for those in the middle. As one of our BOE members, Julie Milliman, often says, “it’s great that we’re improving for our youngest students but we have to make sure we’re taking care of the students caught in the middle between NYS’s old standards and the new, more rigorous common core curriculum.” She’s right. That’s why we’ve added Math support through 1.5 new Academic support teachers at grades 5-8, so that they can focus on the individual gaps our neediest students have while classroom teachers continue to help students through the more rigorous common core curriculum.

Grade 8 did very well— with 71.2% of students at 3 or 4, up from 43% in ELA and 72.9% in Math, up from 50%. SIGNIFICANT gains!

This isn’t a single class or teacher problem or success. It’s a systemic issue–one which absolutely requires us to work closely as a District, making solid, data based decisions that improve learning for our students. Every decision we make has to be centered on what’s best for learning—how will it affect our students and their achievement?

We have much analysis left to be done, including by student and teacher. Our admin team is busy at work asking questions like which teachers saw the greatest gains, where and why? If any students are at a level 1 and they aren’t SPED, what’s happening there? And then the analysis of what did we do that had a significant impact? Where did our teachers most fully align to the common core curriculum and what was the result? How did iReady diagnostic and interim testing affect our results? What about the other programs we’ve implemented? What did teachers do differently, or not, and how did it impact scores?

Couple the gains on these assessments with our 8 point gains in HS and MS rankings for Business First this last year and I’d say we are truly starting to see the fruits of our labor. Remember that Business First includes four years of data and other schools are trying to improve too, so an 8 point gain in the ranking is significant.

I’m really pleased and proud of everyone who contributed, thank you so much for your hard work. We’re going to get there!! Our faculty, staff and administration have always worked hard. I love that we’re all working hard with focus on the same goal of an aligned, rigorous curriculum. And the end result? College and career ready students who leave Randolph with every advantage because we’ve maximized their learning all along the way. WAY TO GO RCS!

NYS Testing Month

Here we go! The month when 9 year olds are stressing out about NYS tests. When 9 year olds come to school worrying if they’ll do well enough, if they’ll disappoint the teacher who they love and know loves them.  Worrying if everyone will think he’s stupid if he doesn’t do well enough on this test that’s clearly so important to everyone.  Worse, worrying that he IS stupid. And the 10 year old girl who wants to grow up to be a teacher and knows she’s expected to get a four on the assessment? Her perfectionism is already driving her to pick at her fingers and spend the night before restlessly as she goes over everything in her head.

These tests are NOT the full measure of our children. It is important that we prepare our students to do well—that we teach the right curriculum, that we help fill in the gaps for our struggling students, that we offer more challenging curriculum to our brightest children too. We want our kids to take the actual test-taking time seriously so they’re not blowing off any of the sections or multiple guessing through the test. But that’s it—we cannot blow this up out of proportion to the point where our students are experiencing crazy levels of stress about it all. Yes, we want to improve as a District. Yes, we know our students can do better. Yes, we’re doing all that we can through evaluation, data inquiry teams, common core alignment. No, neither are these tests the full measure of our children, nor are they the full measure of our teachers.

Here’s what bothers me the most. NO child should have to see these NYS tests as an indicator of his intelligence, his worth, his value, his future success. And some of our children do. Don’t you remember elementary school and looking around the room, noticing the grades of your peers, measuring yourself against them? I do. And if the Teacher Accountability —only way teachers are going to do the job right—Test, Test, Test Disciples believe this isn’t negatively affecting our children—-THEY ARE WRONG. 

Before those same Disciples start with the “well, it’s the tone the teacher sets in the classroom” argument, STOP. In the most loving of classrooms with teachers who work the hardest and do everything possible to teach the curriculum with high expectations for the students and for themselves, the students feel the pressure. It’s really hard to strike the right balance between “please take the test seriously and no, your life does not depend on this test”.

Where are we headed with all of this? As the test results begin to account for 20-40% of  a teacher’s public composite score, how is that pressure going to affect our children? How will they feel about coming to school? How will they feel about themselves? Do the leaders at the State and Federal levels know any 9 year olds? Maybe they would benefit by spending some time with a child this month.

To our RCS students and teachers in Grades 3-8, do your best this month on the NYS tests. No matter how our students do, we’ll study the results together, we’ll meet in data teams to determine what went well and what could have gone better, we’ll make instructional decisions for next year that will help us to improve. We’ll plan for our students who need more help.

One more thing. Make sure you go outside and play, we have some beautiful weather and you have a BIG WONDERFUL LIFE ahead of you that goes well beyond your test scores. Enjoy it. Balance.

That last bit was for our students AND our teachers.